Kat’s question: I'm curious about women in Ghana. You mentioned that your "sister's" daughter is already a mother at 17, but is still going to school. So how long do girls go to school for? And the boys? Do they go to the same schools? What kinds of jobs can women get if they complete their education?
Thank-you so much for your question and donation Kat. Once again there is a long answer and a short answer, but the short answer is long, and the long answer is really really long.
Both boys and girls go to the same schools, but boys do tend to get marginally more schooling. The fees are expensive ($150 CAD per year) and a girl might not continue her schooling if the family has to choose between sending her or her brother to school, or if she is already starting a big family and intends to stay at home. If she does stay at home she will likely do petty trading and sell things like in the market.
There are no restrictions on what jobs woman can hold. Several senior government officials are woman. When I was flying into the capital of Accra, there were several Ghanaian women on the plane in suits clearly flying for business reasons.
Like many things in woman's rights, this comes back to the question of babies. Having children is fundamentally regarded differently in Northern Ghana than Canada. Early in an introductory conversation, people will ask each other how many children they have, and your status is determined by the number much the same way as in Canada your status is confirmed by your job or your neighborhood. Both men and women really hold having many children in their homes as their ultimate reason to be. Societally and personally, a life should be spent bearing and raising children.
Some of the consequences of this are beautiful – women’s body fertility is in many ways respected and revered. When a woman I’m friends with is breastfeeding near me, she will often look at me smiling and say, “A baby will suck at your breast soon.” as an optimistic and loving way of lifting my spirits, assuming that with no baby of my own to feed I would feel saddened. She is apologizing for flaunting her status and happiness of breastfeeding. I think a reasonable analogy would be an executive feeling a little awkward picking up her cheque in front of a close but unemployed friend. My Ghanaian friends don’t really believe that I would use birth control to not have any babies, because in their world that would be insane.
The purpose of marriage is to build a family, and to use birth control before having children is unthinkable. Depending on your tribe, your marriage is void if you don’t bear children within a year or two. When fertility is strong, a man would be considered within his rights to desire many children, and to request his wife stay home to raise the children and manage the household. While the Ghanaian community will help woman raise their children, there is no such thing as daycare.
In the villages there are no electric stoves, no clothes washing machines, dishwashers, or running water inside huts. There are not disposable diapers ,and definitely no microwave dinners or pre-prepared foods. This means that the pure physical labour of running a household with children is staggering. So when your raison d’etre is to bear children, the amount of time you will be spending fulfilling your life’s purpose is large. That makes being an exception to being a woman that raises children while dependent on her husbands income difficult. There are, however, some woman that do it.
There is one woman I work with (she is a gender officer) who separated from her husband after two children, then moved back into his (polygamous) compound again as his wife after she had raised the children and they were done University. If she’d stayed in the compound her husband wanted to have more children with her, and therefore for her to stay at home and have the time needed to take care of a big family. Her incentive to keep her own job (even though she loved her husband and it pained her to be separate from him) was to be able to be financially independent and not have to suffer whatever indignities her financial supporter would put her through. (Husbands can be jerks, spend their money on newer wives, die, or stop supporting you, either way leaving you to depend on someone else for financial support) She limited her number of children, parted a marriage she didn’t want to leave, and lived as a single Mom in a world where you have to fetch your own firewood to cook with, and grow and grind and cook your own corn and stew for dinner. She did it for the assurance of knowing that she could call her own shots because she had her education and a reliable job to support her.
We are now scaling up proven, effective approaches to infrastructure development from a small number of districts, to a national level. Specifically, we are institutionalizing evidence-based infrastructure planning at the district, regional and national levels. To ensure we have an enduring impact, EWB is building the capacity of district staff to manage and execute these evidence based decisions, teaching these skills to the Ghanains who are best able to implement them from their positions as managers and field experts.